Here’s Runnicles (x2)

April 8, 2018

Emperor flute

Last two weekends (not including this weekend just passed) to two SSO concerts conducted by Donald Runnicles.

The first featured bleeding chunks of the Ring Cycle in the second half with Nelson Freire playing Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ concerto in the first half.  The hall was packed.

Nelson Freire makes a stately entrance onto the stage which makes him look older than he in fact is, but once he settles down he just gets on with it.  You can feel his experience although of course his talent is more than that.  I enjoyed his playing.

I was sitting a bit closer to the front than usual which meant I didn’t have a good view of the woodwind – obscured over the lip of the stage.  Then towards the end of the second movement of the concerto my attention was caught by the flute.  That’s the bit above, and especially the bit from letter Q.

Hang on! I thought.  That’s not one of our normal flautists! It’s someone different.  Maybe it’s even a man!

I don’t know why I thought the second thought, because I’m not sure that it is possible (and it seems most unlikely that it should be possible) to make a gender-distinction between flautists.  Probably what I was really noticing was a flautist who was not part of the local school which, as it happens, in Sydney orchestras is pretty uniformly female.  (There are a couple of men who sometimes get a gig with the AOBO though normally even then more likely on piccolo than on flute.)  It was Joshua Batty, previously (as my researches established)  principal flute at the Irish RTE orchestra and currently a tutor at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.  Could he be trying out for the currently vacant principal flute spot?  Will the gender bar be broken?

Freire played an arrangement of Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits for his encore.

Apart from the possible inevitable  Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walkuere, the Ring Cycle extracts favoured the Siegfried story.  This is fair enough given that Siegfrieds Tod (eventually Götterdämmerung) was Wagner’s starting point for the whole shebang.  There was some exciting playing but I fear that I have heard just enough Wagner operas to be spoilt for extracts – mainly because they can never be enough Wagner.  Still, a good time was had by all.

The first half of the second concert was to have been Anne Sofie von Otter singing Schubert songs in orchestral arrangements. I guess we’ll never hear what this sounds like, which is a pity but insignificantly so in the tragic circumstances.  Stuart Skelton made a welcome return to the Sydney stage for a bracket of rather gloomy songs. The houselights were atmospherically dimmed which conveyed the right mood though in the circumstances Runnicles, who accompanied, could have tipped us off while he gave us quite a lengthy chat about the Mahler so we could have conned the texts a bit more while there was still light.  All the same it was moving and the audience was spell bound.

I was a bit tired and not quite sure how I would manage for the Mahler “10.”  I don’t know it at all well and  I can’t even recall anything of the SSO’s 2010 performance other than that I think I went to  it (Ashkenazy chose a different version of the completion).  Coming to it “cold” I found it  compelling if a bit drier than more familiar Mahler.  Was this the new path Mahler was taking or just the consequence of the completion by another hand?

Joshua Batty had another (more extended)  moment in the sun in the last movement.

Death notices

March 30, 2018

You know you are getting on when you find yourself reading the death notices.

That was a habit of our cleaning lady when I was a child. It was not my parents’ – maybe because not having grown up in Sydney they had less cause for it.

Still living in the city of my birth, I haven’t started doing it yet, but I did have reason to scan them today. It’s easier now online though I suspect publishing death notices in a “paper of record” is a dying custom. I didn’t find who I was looking for (not that I am wishing for their death) but was surprised to see notices for two people I knew, or at least knew of.

One was the father of my schoolmate, B.

The other was Beryl Potter. At first I wasn’t sure if it was the Beryl Potter but it turns out it was.

For many years Beryl was a leading accompanist in Sydney. Perhaps the somewhat older Megan Evans was more of a fixture on the vocal side of things. Although Potter performed with singers I think of her as the accompanist you would most likely see for any young instrumentalist’s examination or audition.

Simon Tedeschi has written an obituary which has been published in the SMH.

Tedeschi remarks that Potter “could sight read like nobody’s business.” I’m sure that is true, though by the time Tedeschi knew her there can’t have been many occasions when she had to.

Something missing

March 26, 2018

IMG_20180324_123525

I only just noticed this.

Compare 2010 (not my picture):

view-of-royal-botanic-gardens-sydney

Don Quichotte 2, 3

March 25, 2018

This week, after a bit of a fizzer of a first night owing to the indisposition of F Furlanetto in the title role,  to Opera Australia’s production of Don Quichotte for the second and third times on Wednesday and with D  to the Saturday matinee.

The opera is a character study based on a play and if you’ve read the first 8 chapters of Part I of the novel you’ve probably read enough.

Between the first time and the second  I tracked down a  vocal score (I couldn’t find a full score) , a recording of a 1957 concert performance in Italian with Boris Christoff and a young Tereza Berganza (this was the only recording the Con library had) and some CDs of Massenet orchestral music which included the two interludes as well as the  excerpts from El Cid which are played in the OA production as an entracte betwen Acts I and II.

Being a star vehicle it was much improved once there was a star.  Furlanetto is a strong singer but the real thing is that, being perfectly in command of the part vocally, he has energy and skill to spare for the acting, in just so many little ways. For me this culminated in Act IV as he wobblingly descended on one knee to propose marriage to Dulcinea, followed by his devastated dejection after she laughingly rebuffs him.

After the first performance I was a bit down on this work and the decision to stage it when so many other works remain out of reach (think: almost the entire Russian repertoire, just for a start.). That’s the risk you take with a star vehicle if the star is indisposed. Now, if it weren’t for the inevitability of an anticlimax (because I cannot hope for a better seat than the one I had on Saturday) I would willingly go again.

I wonder if that doesn’t just go to show that familiarity is a big aspect of musical appeal – almost any music, given a threshold of some reasonable quality, improves on better acquaintance.

Whilst reviewers have betrayed some restiveness with the delay imposed by the scene change between Acts I and II, every time I heard the El Cid music I liked it more.

D rated the orchestral music more highly than the vocal. I particularly liked the variety of banda (off-stage instrumental music) effects.  There is a lovely cello solo in the second interlude and the night as a whole (or afternoon, on Saturday)  is a big one for the cor anglais – verging, I suppose, on a cliche for romantic sweetness but not suffering for that.

Don Q is not a great opera and I don’t think it even pretends to be one. (OK that’s a funny kind of personification: the genre claim for it is “heroic comedy.”) It is a sentimental piece written with great art and skill.  Its shortcomings are more the libretto’s than the music’s.

I’m still trying to work out how the acoustic/electronic enhancement of the pit works.  On Wednesday the sound in row D of the stalls was not terribly satisfactory and the lights at the rear of the stalls (possibly those projecting text onto the curtain) unbelievably noisy to my ears.  I noticed on Saturday (when I sat just behind the conductor, the incredibly vigorous Guillaume Tourniare)  that the cello section are individually miked for sound.  Where’s all that being piped to?

As part of last year’s refurbishment of the theatre a new surtitle display has been installed.

Front row seats have long been sold on the basis that surtitles are not visible from them.  In a pinch surtitles could still be made out if you were sitting in the middle. That’s no longer the case, which is a very sad development for me.

 

 

Australia Ensemble 2018.1

March 23, 2018

Last Saturday to the Australia Ensemble’s first concert of the year with P, my regular companion for these concerts.

The program was:

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN | Trio Op. 11 (1797)
Brett DEAN | Sextet (Old Kings in Exile) (2010)
[interval]
Erwin SCHULHOFF | Concertino (1925)
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH | String quartet no. 8 in C minor Op.110 (1960)

Not originally advertised as a guest artist, Timothy Young from Melbourne took Ian Munro’s place on piano for the Beethoven (a trio for clarinet, piano and cello) and the Dean.  Young favoured an awful lot of una corda with occasional eruptions into a rather brittle capital L “Loud.”  With such strong players I think he could have loosened the throttle a bit more in the Beethoven.  I’m not in a position to judge about the Dean.

The Dean was last played by the Ensemble in August 2011.  I can remember a piece using paper-clip mutes but am not sure if this is it because that concert coincided with a school reunion in the afternoon and possibly I didn’t make it to the concert.  Resolution: blog, even if trivially, more systematically.  Hence this post, you might think.

The program note for the Dean was strangely uninformative about the music itself but, unusually, said you could ask for a fuller analysis by Roger Covell.  I asked for that and received it – an almost note-by-note/bar-by-bar running commentary b ut still strangely uninformative as to what, if anything, the music might be about.

The middle movement is very much the heart of this.

The Schulhoff was a pleasant surprise – hard to pin down where it lies but you could say Bartok with a bit of Weimar-era jazziness.  I doubt if there are many trios for flute, viola and double bass.  Prominence for the flautist is a given but there were also vigorous moments in the sun for both Morozova on viola and Andrew Meisel on bass.

When the players came out for the final string quartet I’d forgotten who the composer was to be.  There was no mistaking who from the opening D-Es-C-H.  I was sure I knew another theme in piano-and-strings instrumentation – which turns out to be the “Jewish” melody from the Piano Trio No 2 – and it turns out there are a few other self-borrowings.  That’s one way to write a work in a hurry (it was composed in a matter of days). I’m prepared to concede that Shostakovich earned the right to that though on reflection the conservatism of the quartet’s idiom is striking.

 

Star vehicle

March 17, 2018

Last night to the first night of Opera Australia’s production of Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

It’s an obscurity, written as a star vehicle for the famous bass, Chaliapin, and premiered at Monaco in 1910.  So I suppose it was bankrolled by the upper-class version of pokies money.

Unfortunately, on the first night it was a star vehicle without a star.  International big-name bass, Ferrucio Furlanetto, for whom this production was first mounted in San Diego, was indisposed.  He was replaced by Shane Lowrencev.  No disrespect intended to Mr L and the show must go on and it’s good he was there to fill the gap but there were big shoes to fill.

There was an enormous swathe of seats in the front circle – somewhere between a quarter and a third – which were empty.  Did these represent  the free list or production sponsors tipped off and staying away?

My least favourite opera company director, L Terracini, faced the front-of-curtain mike to make the announcement and give us a little pep-talk.  He’d spoken to Mr Lowrencev who was very excited; he (LT) was excited (maybe I’m paraphrasing a bit freely here); there’s some wonderful music, particularly in the second half.

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of Acts I to III which made up the first half.

At interval the mood was subdued.  “Nothing much happens” I heard one opera-aged lady say to her o-a-l companion.  Actually, a bit happened in Act III but it was oddly underwhelming as for no very obvious reason the leader of the bandits is moved by DonQ’s – well, what exactly – Christlike ridiculousness? (there is an organ banda part and fairly obvious crucifixion visual imagery although also some faintly Wagnerian-grailish stuff)  – to return Dulcinea’s necklace to him.  The chorus of bandits was far too small to be at all scary.  I’d be prepared to wager that they were really all noblemen who have gone wrong, except that they also seemed to have wandered out of Carmen.

Act IV was the first act which elicited genuinely warm applause. Massenet is a skilful theatrical writer and Act V also tugged heartstrings, if rather mildly.  I for one felt obliged to will an emotional response into being.

Because this is a rarity, I was already  going again, which is just as well.

 

2061 years ago today

March 15, 2018

A funny thing happened on the way to the…..can anyone guess what I’m thinking of?

I only thought of this because I went to visit a friend who last night at an SSO concert I learnt was in a rehab hospital following a fall at, as it happened, a reunion at our old school.  (He was there about 15 years earlier than I was.)

(I told him, don’t go!)

When I got to the hospital this afternoon he’d just gone off for an hour’s physio.  I couldn’t wait that long, and so left a note with reception, which is when I came to write the date.

Day in the life

March 10, 2018

The Friday before last to hear the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in their concert titled Heaven is Closed.

I had spent the day in a suburban local court on a legally aided matter.   I had done a lot of work on it laboriously transcribing the copious video evidence – mostly from police-worn body-cam.  This pretty much comprised the entirety of the police investigation, so  I was in as good a position as the police to form a view that the charges should not have been brought.

There had been a scuffle and my client, basically a street person, was ejected forcibly from a flat where he had been staying. He was prevented from taking  his stuff (“new, from the Wayside”)  with him.  He rang the police from a nearby phone box complaining that he had been assaulted.  When the police arrived he confirmed this but said that he was more interested in getting his stuff back.

The police are a hammer to whom everything is a nail.  By the time the police had come back from talking to the people in the flat (and before they had spoken to my client) they had decided that he instead was the assailant and arrested him for that.  No attempt was made to retrieve the possessions, even though the alleged victim of the assault volumteered that there were such possessions to be returned to my client .

What ever happened to community policing?

In the end my work was (with hindsight) unnecessary as one prosecution witness did not show and the other (the “victim”) , who had no choice about attending because now in custody, recanted.  Charge dismissed.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the magistrate asked me if the magistrate knew me from somewhere.  We couldn’t work out where and whether this was so and it is only since with a bit of googling  that I have realised that I probably adjudicated the magistrate in a high school debate circa 1979 or 1980.

After all this excitement I was unable to restore myself to a satisfactory state with a pre-concert nap which was interrupted to boot..

The fare, with violinist Lisa Batiashvili and conductor Dima Slobodeniouk was advertised as:

R STRAUSS  Don Juan
PROKOFIEV  Violin Concerto No.2
KATS-CHERNIN  Heaven is Closed
R STRAUSS  Till Eulenspiegel.

On the night, the Kats-Chernin was played  first and the two Strauss pieces made up the second half.  My own feeling is that the first idea (if that was the idea) was better, as it would have better distinguished the Strauss pieces from each other and also placed the Kats-Chernin in a more favourable place, rather than the slightly hackneyed opening-of-concert-modern-work spot.

I’m not a great Kats-Chernin fan and given the state I’m in I struggled to overcome my prejudices.  Others enjoyed it.

I was a bit surprised to see Ms Batiashvili use a music stand for the Prokofiev.  Was this one of these “obscure” concerti?  Hardly – I certainly recognized it, and especially the second movement.  She did lift me out of my bad state.  I also enjoyed her encore, a Bach chorale prelude arranged for violin and string orchestra.

The Strauss was invigorating.  The SSO is trialling various potential new co-concertmasters.  On this occasion, it was Raphael Christ.  He has beautiful crinkly hair.   This is probably not something I would comment on save that it is still just a shadow of the hairdo he sported as a teenager in this performance . RC’s father is the violist, Wolfram, who has also spent some time in Sydney.  Speaking as a follically-challenged person, I hope Raphael  gets his hair from his mother rather than his father.

I was going to mention something arising out of post-concert chat with my friend and former student and neighbout  DB, but the subject matter is just too disparate to be fitted in to this already quite disparate post.

 

 

Moral hazard

March 3, 2018

This is a term much beloved by insurers.  It refers to the fact or the risk (which I suppose is a kind of fact) that, once insured, people are likely to take less care than if they were bearing the risk, uninsured, themselves.  Here is a more formal expression of that:

the chance that the insured will be more careless and take greater risks because he or she is protected, thus increasing the potential of claims on the provider.

As with banking law or indeed any area of social and interaction, the terms of discourse are generally set by the frequent players (banks, insurers) rather than the punters on the other side.  I do love the way in which it is expressed so as to imply that it is the insured person who is being immoral.

But it’s not all one way.  Mostly the flip side of the coin is the cunning use of exclusion and limitation clauses in insurance policies.  A more subtle example is the way that an insurer might conduct your defence if you are being sued and they are the insurer for a liability policy of some sort.  Frequently as a term of such insurance the insurer maintains the right to conduct the defence on your behalf.

As the person subject to a claim, you may well prefer the claim to be settled rather than a potentially embarrassing and risky trial conducted – especially as the insurer will have its own reasons for defending or not defending a claim relating to its own exposure to potential similar claims by others against other insureds.

But here is a more worrying situation.

Sometimes liability insurance policies cover the cost of defending claims by clients, but also contain exclusions against certain types of claims.  For example, you will never be insured against a claim that you have acted fraudulently.

So then suppose the claim against you is a claim for fraud.  You deny it but it will be expensive to defend.  You go to your insurer to pay for your defence.  You have to let them conduct the defence.

But if you lose, which actually means if the insurer loses the case it conducts on your behalf, the policy won’t apply.   Not only will you have to meet the claim, but you will have to pay the insurer back for the money which it has spent unsuccessfully defending the case.

Call it moral hazard, call it conflict of interest.  Either way it’s a scary turning of the tables.

Should insurers be permitted to insist on their right to conduct the defence in such cases?

Nose 2, 3

March 1, 2018

I have been to see Opera Australia’s production of The Nose again twice.

Each time I have enjoyed it more.  This is because I could appreciate its details better rather than because I found it more likeable or engaging.

My feeling is that Shostakovich put more variety of mood into the music than Kosky allowed for.

There is something a bit exhausting about watching 2-hours of grotesquery with the comedy knob dialled up to  11: isn’t this FUNNY!

In particular, I tire of these jokes about making a JOKE at the OPERA, such as “Oh for fuck’s sake, I came here to see La Traviata, not this rubbish” and “This is the Sydney Opera House, not the Rooty Hill RSL” – both of these from planted pseudo-audience members in the loges (side boxes), or (from Kanen Breen on stage before a bit of on-stage rumpy-pumpy) “You won’t see this in Evita!”  Maybe I’m in the minority here.  Most of the audience were ready to laugh at these,  and a simple “fuck” in the libretto drew a laugh on (I presume) the same basis.

Then again, Rooty Hill RSL has more in common with the SOH than you might at first think.

D, who came with me the third time, commented that he thought the audience’s laughter threshold was rather low.  He is a sensitive soul and was disappointed that Kovalev’s noseless plight should arouse so much mockery and so little (arguably, from the production’s standpoint, practically no) sympathy.

For  me the funniest line in the opera was the barber’s, at the beginning: “This morning I shall not drink [scornful incredulity from his wife] …….coffee.”

My friend, UB, who also came on the third night I was there, found the whole thing a bit repetitive (by which she largely meant the same joke/mode of humour constantly maintained) and could have done without the love-interest subplot.  The latter is probably a critique of the work rather than the production.  As for the phallic proboscis (which I assured her comes from a tradition of interpretation of the significance of the nose), wasn’t it (she asked) a bit obvious?

Well, this was a Kosky production.

My first-night niggles about the acoustic enhancement did not recur.  Could I have been imagining them?  However, I did think Mr Molino was amplified too much for his one-liner forbidding the barber to throw the nose into the pit.

For anyone who has missed the publicity, the nose, separated from Kovalev, acquires a life of its own.  In this production, it is impersonated by a boy inside a large nose.  You see his legs (in the flesh) but not the rest of him.  In its apotheosis, the nose is hoisted on a large hook which descends on a pulley from above the stage, the legs, now clad in long black trousers, kicking in the helpless way you would expect if someone was hoist aloft.  I was shocked and apprehensive.  What if he falls? How can that be OK for OH&S?

I need not have worried.  It was all a trick.  On the second night, the kicking action failed to activate and the legs simply dangled.  On the third night I could then see clearly that the knee joints weren’t real knees.  The long pants simply concealed the mechanism.  No boy had been hoist on a hook.  Riddle inside a mystery (to coin a phrase from Winston Churchill via Pountney’s translation) solved.

At the curtain calls, the nose was lifted up to reveal the boy in question, now wearing the long black pants – the illusion retrospectively maintained.

Isn’t theatre fun?